TDSB debates blueprint for early grades

At a Toronto District school board meeting on April 16, trustee Bruce Davis recommended keeping the Junior-Kindergarten-to-Grade-6 schooling model.

All 22 trustees gathered at the 5050 Yonge St. building to discuss the recommendations from the General Asset and Program Planning (GAPP) group. It recommended that the board aim to eventually have 450 pupil places from JK to Grade 8 in elementary schools. Trustee Davis disagreed.

“I don’t think that it’s compelling that JK to (Grade) 8 is better than JK to (Grade) 6,” Davis said. “I don’t believe that we should be migrating to the JK-to-(Grade)-8 model.”

The GAPP group formed in August 2007 to deal with declining student enrollment in public schools.

The report recommended a number of measures to cut costs, including shutting down schools. Davis, (Ward Three Etobicoke-Lakeshore trustee), supported the board’s decision to shut down schools with low enrollment, but did not want to abandon the JK-to-Grade-6 schooling model.

“I believe in village schools in a big city where the principal knows every family,” Davis said.

According to the Ontario government’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), Grade 6 students in JK-to-Grade-6 schools performed better in reading, writing and mathematics than Grade 6 students enrolled in JK-to-Grade-8 schools. Davis presented this statistic during the meeting.

Unconvinced, other trustees said that eliminating middle schools and junior highs would not only be administratively simpler, but would benefit students in the end. They maintained that moving students from school to school would hinder a child’s education and that reducing those transitions would benefit the student.

“The K-to-8 transitions don’t have anything to do with the Grade 6 EQAOs,” Trustee Howard Goodman said. “The problem isn’t inside the school. The problem is between the schools.”

The majority of the trustees voted to carry the five GAPP group recommendations. Davis voted against the first GAPP recommendation that suggested elementary schools serve a minimum of 450 pupils and high schools, a minimum of 1,200.

However, trustee Mari Rutka said that those numbers could be flexible.

“Not all schools have to be 450 (students enrolled),” Rutka said. “It’s merely a balance point.”

The board’s chair, John Campbell, applauded the move. He said that school closures will not happen immediately and the TDSB will assess the schools case by case.

“It does not guarantee that small schools will be closed,” Campbell said. “This is the most important thing the board has done since post-amalgamation.”

The board will begin assessing schools in June.